Top 100 Irish Americans of the Year
Top 100 Irish Americans of the Year
“Darrah Carr & Niall O’Leary - Inspired Dancers”
By Michele Barber-Perry
Often described as the "yin and yang" of the Irish dance scene, Darrah Carr and Niall O'Leary have been performing with each other for almost a decade The two met in a classic fairy tale with a-modern-twist fashion on a train in Ireland, while Carr was traveling on a Davenport Grant researching her senior thesis on Irish Dance for Wesleyan University. After seeing O'Leary perform in a festival at the headquarters of the Irish cultural organization, Comhaltas, in Monkstown, Carr recognized him on a train and the two began a conversation. Nearly eight years later, they practically dominate the world of Irish dance in New York City, dazzling audiences with their different, but perfectly-balanced styles. His is the more traditional Irish step - complete with stomping, complicated footwork patterns - while Carr performs her famous soft, fluid, and graceful fusion of modern dance with traditional Irish dance. They have performed their duet act everywhere from Disney World to the Osaka Festival Hall in Japan. Voted as one of New York City’s "dance scene essentials" in a 2003 issue of Dance Spirit magazine, Darrah Carr has made a distinct name for herself in the dance world. As artistic director and co-founder of Darrah Carr Dance, freelance writer, choreographer, and teacher, the Ohio native seems to live and breathe dance. Her unique style is described by people in the know with such words as "exuberant," "refreshing" and "spirited" (and reviewers invariably mention her beautiful smile). She began dancing at the age of six, when her parents enrolled her in ballet and step at the Tim O'Hare School of Irish Dance in Michigan. Carr feels that as the Irish in migrant population in the United States has grown, so has the interest in Irish dance classes that serve as "tangible ties" to their homeland. In fact, because of this natural need to connect with the past through cultural institutions like dance, there are now more Irish dancers in the United States than in Ireland. Carr's own family is closely connected to its Irish roots: her father's family is from Armagh and her Queens-born mom traces hers to Kilkenny. As a child, Carr traveled with her family to Ireland on a yearly basis. Carr’s first experience with step dancing was competitive, but after ten years, she beca me burned out by the process. Darrah Carr Dance is now primarily a company that "operates in a modem dance universe.” She describes the theory behind her method ''as the lifting of the Celtic patterns that define Irish figure dancing onto the more spatially-open style of modern dance.” By blending the two styles, Carr is able to achieve a mesmerizing and beautifully unique style that dazzles audiences with its "seamless" fusion. This has served her well both on and off the stage. Carr has performed most recently in the N Y Fringe Festival, the N Y C Irish Dance Festival and in the Irish Women’s Art collective, Banshee, which was recently featured in a B B C documentary. She was also the assistant choreographer to Sean Curran for the Tony-award winning musical, James Joyce's The Dead, and was in the cast of the pseudo Bollywood film, The Guru, with Heather Graham. Born in Dublin, Niall O'Leary began his dance education at the age of four and has since gone on to win the All-Ireland Senior and World Championships in Irish Dance. Though O'Leary has admitted to "dabbling" in other types of dance, he is largely known for a more traditional form of step dancing, as his training has been more geared towards the competition circuit. His most influential teacher was the great Kevin Massey, who is considered by Michael Flatley to be the greatest Irish dancer of all time. O'Leary continues to put his competitive background to use. In 1996, he organized and choreographed the first ever multi-national team to compete in the World Irish Dance Championships: The Niall O'Leary Irish Dance Troupe, which included dancers from Germany, Finland, Switzerland, Belgium, Australia, Botswana, U S and Ireland. The company has performed 26 shows around the world, including The Rockland 'Worldfest' International Dance Festival and the 2002 and 2003 New York City Irish Dance Festivals. They toured the United States with The Three Irish Tenors in 2001 and 2002 and have appeared at many corporate functions and private events. In addition to performing and running his school, the overachieving O'Leary is also the chairman of "Ull Mor C C E,” the Manhattan branch of the worldwide Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann founded in 1951, whose goal is to promote Irish music and dance through weekly music sessions, singers circles, and meetings in local Irish restaurants in New York. O'Leary's interest in music is personal: he plays the accordion, bodhran, keyboards and spoons. On top of all this, he has put out his own dance video, "Cuts From The Kitchen" and some how finds the time to run his own architectural firm. Darrah Carr & Niall O'Leary will be performing in the Breaking Lines Dance Festival at the Harry de Jur Playhouse in Manhattan. The festival features 4-5 dance companies, showcasing different ethnic styles in a celebration of the diversity of the Lower East Side. Carr recognizes the area's rich heritage, "As the Irish representatives for the festival, we feel it is a great way to highlight the contributions of the Irish to N Y C history.” The festival opens with the Darrah Carr Dance performing on Wednesday, April 28th and will feature the musical performances of Mick Moloney and Althena O’Lachlainn. For more information, visit www.zia-artists.co m. They will also be returning to the New York City Irish Dance Festival on Sunday, May 2, at Pier 63.